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August 6, 2006
THE MODERATOR: We are pleased to be joined in the first-floor Media Center here at the Brickyard by race champion, Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet, and team owner Rick Hendrick.
For Jimmie, this is his 22nd career NASCAR Nextel Cup Series victory. He's our points leader for the 2006 season. This is his fourth win of this year.
This is the first time and only the second time since 1996 that a driver has won both the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard in the same season. Dale Jarrett is the only other driver to have accomplished that feat.
For team owner Rick Hendrick, it is his fifth win as a team owner here at the Brickyard.
Congratulations to both of y'all. Jimmie, take us through your championship run out there today.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: When I walked in, David said he doubted me. I have to admit, I shared that same doubt. This track's been so tough on us, a tough session. We had rain and we weren't able to really work through the things that we intended on working through. Left the test session in a little bit off the pace, but had a direction which was good and comforting to a certain degree.
We came back, started in race trim and wasn't really happy with it. But as soon as we switched to qualifying trim, the car was very competitive. Felt like I had a shot at the pole. We were all so close, the first five, six cars on speed. We knew that we brought the right product, it was just trying to get everything dialed in right on the race car.
We made ground through practice yesterday, through both practice sessions. Then last night Chad really, really, really racked his head. We spent a lot of time sorting through the data from the test, thinking through adjustments to be made, and took a swing at it again today.
Second or third lap on the racetrack I knew we had a car that was capable of running in the top five. From that point, it was just trying to maintain it.
The issue we had with the tire, I have to admit, myself personally, it really deflated me inside the car. I thought, Man, it's going to be impossible to pass here. The tire started coming apart when I was trying to get back to Pit Road. I thought it destroyed the fender and really took us out of contention.
Things were on our side. Luckily, no major damage. We didn't lose a lap. Caution came out. From then on, next two pit stops I took it, you know, kind of easy, trying to get through traffic. I was afraid of that tire, that front tire, having another issue with that. Chad worked with the Goodyear engineers, made some changes, and got the tire to where it would survive and make it the whole run.
After I got two good runs without Chad being nervous over the radio telling me about the left front, I just got really aggressive and drove the heck out of the car after that and got the job done.
Sorry I'm not over-the-top with emotion. I am internally. Inside, I am just so proud of this race team. This is such a satisfying day and accomplishment for this race team. I couldn't be more proud of everybody involved.
THE MODERATOR: Rick, you've won here before. I'm sure they keep getting sweeter and sweeter. Talk about today's victory.
RICK HENDRICK: Yeah, the day didn't start out too well for us. Jeff had a problem, then Jimmy had a flat, and, you know, you're trying to battle back at that point because it's so hard to pass here. But then when we looked at the lap times, Jimmie was really making some great time and we felt like when he got back to the front he'd be good.
This place is kind of like Daytona in a way, you know. You think we're pulling away two or 3/10ths a lap faster, caution comes out, you know that eight or nine guys are gonna probably not take any tires, then two tires, and you're gonna be caught in the traffic.
I think Jimmie just - I've never seen anybody take them on the outside, the inside, loose. I mean, he just drove the wheels off the car. I mean, he made some moves that, you know, I've never seen at this track before.
So it was a great day for the Lowe's team, but it was a great car, and he battled back. But he absolutely put on a show, I thought, watching him on the outside, the inside, and the car was awful loose there at one time and he just drove it.
This is a special place. Every time you get to kiss those bricks, you don't take it for granted, you know. It's just special. Everybody works hard. I'm sure a lot of those guys were so good early in the race are trying to figure what happened here at the end of the day. It's just a great effort by this team.
THE MODERATOR: Rick, I believe we also have another trophy that we need to bring up here. Joey Chitwit has a presentation for you.
RICK HENDRICK: Thank you, appreciate that. Thanks.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Joey. Right now, we're going to take questions.
Q. Jimmie, I think this is an obvious follow-up. You said internally you're happy, but not "over-the-top." I mean, you looked like you were trembling when you got out of the car. Kind of seemed dazed. What's going on? What are your emotions, and why so reserved?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Uhm, I'm just so proud of what we've done today that it's really left me speechless. I'm just full of pride. I'm full of joy. But it's not like...
I don't know how to describe it. I have doubted this racetrack. I've doubted my ability to get around this track. I know the team's doubted what we've been able to do here. Chad has been hard on himself. We've been kicking ourselves for years coming to this track from test sessions to races, whatever it may be. We just haven't been competitive and have been very frustrated in the process. This has been that critical time leading into a championship, battle with the Chase format. This track has been an emotional disaster for us, some type of disaster from blowing an engine to hitting the wall, running bad, whatever it is. We've left here and it's taken the wind out of our sails.
To get over this hurdle, to get past this, I'm just so proud of what we've done that I'm just full inside and I just want to go sit down and reflect, think about it. I just want to sit in a quiet corner somewhere and chill out and relax (laughing). I just can't believe we overcame all the things we have at this racetrack and the challenges we had today and won.
Q. Rick, you touched on Jeff briefly. From talking to him, he thought he had a really good car. Just for kind of a freak accident, he thought he'd have a shot today. Just comment on his day. Did you kind of have the same feeling that maybe you guys with that car had a little bit of bad luck?
RICK HENDRICK: Yeah, you know, again, when Jeff had that problem and then Jimmie blew that tire, you know, I figured that if we could come back and finish the race, I was glad to see the fender not tore off of the car.
Then when you see, you know, we made the recovery, and then you see the cars out there with no tires and two tires, and 12 or 14 laps to go, you figured it was going to be an accident. And trying to get through there without being involved in it, it's just one of those -- the competition is so tough today, you sit there, I'm glad I don't have to make the call. I tell Chad on Monday he should have taken two or four (laughter). I'm glad I don't have to make the call on Sunday because you see guys gamble, and we did with the 5 car, and it paid off.
If you had told me halfway through this race or a third through this race we were gonna win it, I would have told you "no way."
Q. Jimmie, you dropped back to 38th with the tire problem. NASCAR announced competition yellow at lap 40, which is right when you had the problem. How fortunate were you that the two kind of coincided like that?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I was lucky on that respect. I knew the competition yellow was coming soon, but I couldn't turn the car down on to the -- on the access road. I could see in my mirror, see the chunks flying. I felt like a caution was gonna come out. Fortunately, it did.
Then I kind of had some joy inside, like, All right, caution's out, I'm not gonna lose a lap. As soon as that thought went through my mind, the tire really came apart. It started tearing the fender off the car. I'm like, Oh, man, slow down.
It was a stressful two-and-a-half-mile trip back around to get my four fresh tires.
THE MODERATOR: We're also pleased to be joined by our championship crew chief, Chad Knaus. Tell us about what you saw up top today.
CHAD KNAUS: I don't even know where to begin, to be honest with you. It was obviously quite a whirlwind day. Got to start off by saying this whole Lowe's team did an incredible job all weekend long. For us to be able to come to a racetrack where we have typically not run as well as what we've wanted to, for us to be able to qualify fifth, which is very difficult on the team and on the driver, the schedule here is not very easy to get up first thing in the morning as a driver and go out there and try to bust off a lap to get your starting position. But Jimmie did a great job, and the guys did a great job preparing the car.
Then the race trim, the car was good. When we got into the race today, there was some magic somewhere. I honestly can't tell you exactly where it came from, but we'll figure it out when we get home, that's for sure.
The car was great. We had the flat tire. We knew the car was fast, but we didn't really know how fast it was until we got back there and had to start passing some cars. It was a good deal. Jimmie did a great job of keeping the rest of the car clean for the rest of the event. For us to be able to come home like this, it's pretty incredible.
Q. You guys have touched on this. This place last year was like a House of Horrors for you, the whole weekend was awful. The year before that, you finished 36th here, 40th the next two weeks. You have talked all year about how that pattern was something you really wanted to break. Are you ready to say now, Okay, we've got that pattern broken? How big is this in terms of the huge, larger picture of the whole season for you?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's way too early to say that we have broken the pattern, but, you know, this is a great start. I think we're all going to learn together as these next few weeks unfold and as we get into the Chase.
It's nice to speculate and to, you know, take that as team morale and within our own race team and tell our guys we got over a big hurdle today, one that really plagued us in the past.
But there's just too much racing, too much racing going on. The 17 is showing a lot of strength. Jeff Burton is showing a lot of strength. So the momentum is important for us right now to get into the Chase, but when we get in the Chase, the points re-rack, it's going to be a tough Chase. You're going to have some very experienced, very talented drivers, great race teams, and it's going to be a shootout for those ten races. It's just too early now to get too confident in anything really.
Q. This is for Chad. Jimmie almost alluded to the fact that he was surprised to be here considering all the bad luck he's had at this racetrack. When you saw this race on the schedule, did you look at it as, Let's just try and get through it as best we can, or did you actually have a game plan and say, Maybe we can make some changes and really do well here?
CHAD KNAUS: We do that every time we go to the racetrack. We go there with the want to win, but I'm not going to lie to you in saying that we came here and what we wanted to do was top 10 out. We wanted to top 10 qualify, we wanted to top 10 race, and finish in the top 10. That was kind of our goal and mindset.
I'm babbling. I can't believe we won it, I'll be honest with you (laughter).
It's pretty amazing. You know, the thing that's bizarre about it, and you guys may not know about this, but it started right again, first thing. We're out on the starting grid and the two batteries in our two radios inside the race car were dead. So we had people running back to the garage area, getting batteries, going down to the pits, getting batteries, getting push-to-talk buttons, doing all this kind of stuff at the start of the event before we ever even got off the starting grid. Then lap 39 or whatever it was, 38, we have a flat tire. I just sat back and I was like, Man, this place has got it out for me - bad. I didn't know what to do.
But we just buckled down. Guys did a great job. We continued with that mindset that we wanted to finish in the top 10. We were calm, patient about it. Jimmie picked to choose his passes, and that's why we're here. If he went out there and had gotten real aggressive right after we had that tire issue, we could have had the same problem once again. He was smart enough to lay back a little bit, let us get a good look at the tires before we really took off and got after them.
Q. You started to answer the question, Chad, what exactly did you say to Jimmie after the tire blew, if anything? What did you say, and was that necessary?
CHAD KNAUS: I told him, Everything's going to be okay, buddy.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: The scary thing is he said it in a very convincing nature (laughter).
In the back of my mind, I'm like, We're in trouble. I've got to go, I'm in bad air, work the tires harder. He had an idea. I think he (indiscernible) the engineers a little bit from Goodyear. I'll let you keep going.
But I have to give him a lot of credit. I think his reaction to what took place kept my head in the game and kept the team's head in the game.
CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, I just told him. I think we've been working on it. We saw some signs of this yesterday. We knew if it happened, we knew how to react to try to counter it. We were hoping that it wouldn't show up. We saw some things in the tires we weren't liking in practice and kind of set up a game plan if we started to see some signs of that.
The first 15 laps we saw a couple of issues with it, but obviously from the first 15 laps to the next one, you can't make an adjustment during that run because you're already stuck with what you've got going on. Unfortunately, we didn't make it to the last -- to the second stint all the way through that, and we had the flat tire.
We had a good idea, plan of what we had to do, how we were going to react. We were pretty fortunate it all worked out, because if what we thought was gonna fix it didn't fix it, then we could have been in a world of hurt.
Q. Jimmie, you won the Daytona 500, the All-Star race, you won this race. All that's left is the championship. Can you fathom what kind of year that would be if you were able to cap it off with a championship?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, I'm with you and my mind races. See that (laughter).
CHAD KNAUS: Figure.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: See that? But I can't. I can't start commenting on it. I can't talk about it. We got to take it race by race. If I'm lucky enough to be sitting in front of all you after Homestead, bragging about it, I'll have plenty to talk about then. But right now it's just race by race. We just got to stay focused on it.
Q. Two-fold question. When did it dawn on you that you would do something special like Dale Earnhardt did in winning both of those races? And knowing that this track is so unforgiving, in the last four laps, did it dawn on you that anything can happen with the experience that you've had before?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I thought about a lot of things on those last few laps. When we had the green flag stop, came out, was ahead of Matt, he was catching me for a little bit. I was loose and I was afraid to hurt the tires. I still in the back of my mind didn't want to overabuse the car and luckily had a nice lead that I could manage. Then on that last restart, it was go time and I still -- I felt like I abused the tires trying to get by Matt and trying to get by those cars that didn't take tires. Once I got in the lead, my mind was just running with, Did I overwork something, Did I hurt something. Fortunately, I didn't have signs or any feelings what was going on, so I drew some comfort with that. I was thinking in the back of my mind, We're gonna have a wreck, it's gonna be a green/white checkered finish, something's gonna happen.
As soon as I came down the front stretch to take the white flag, I think, Rick, you came on the radio and said, Just concentrate and hit your marks. As soon as I took the white flag, I knew we wouldn't have a green/white checkered, I started breathing a little easier, tip-toed back around the track and felt like we'd be in good shape.
Q. This is probably for all three of you. Jimmie, I noticed your expression when you kissed the bricks that you were wiping your mouth. Looked like it didn't really taste too good (laughter). You were spittin'.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Last time I had dirt in my mouth was when I was fighting with my little brother. I crammed it in his mouth, he probably threw it back in mine.
We were in the position, was right where I did a big burnout, and we came up and our face was covered (laughing), her lips. I'm sure mine were, too, but just black all in her lip gloss. We were laughing pretty good about that.
The first kiss we had out there, you're like, Wow, this is dirty. The second kiss, you're like, I don't know if I'll ever be here again. I better enjoy this moment and enjoy the taste of this.
Q. You kind of talked about this already. Did the negative things that happened to you here in the last couple years, did they play an effect on what happened to you after that?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: With the championship?
Q. Yeah, with the championship and the Chase.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't think it prevented us from winning the championship. This is a unique racetrack. The races in the final ten were much different than this.
So, you know, I do think that it was a negative thing that took place, took some momentum away from us, you know, maybe put us in a position where we were too aggressive following this, try not to lose a points lead or trying to make up ground that we lost in this race. So it would be a small amount, nothing where I could say it kept us from winning the championship.
Q. Jimmie and Chad, Jimmie, first of all, if you could talk about the restart and how you were able to get by Kenseth and the gaggle of cars. That just looked like it was pretty hairy at times, what you recall about that. Chad, also, you mentioned earlier about you guys just wanting to top 10 at this track. That doesn't seem like that's always been this team's motto at a lot of places. How many times or how rare a time is it where you go to a track and say we just want a top 10 as opposed to we want to win the thing?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: What did you ask me? I was listening to what you were asking Chad (laughter).
I'm sorry. I'm in my own world over here, I apologize.
Q. The restart.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: The restart, I knew if I got too close to the cars in front of me going through two, I knew that's gonna be a big speed difference starting with the 17 and the cars in front of him. So I tried to leave myself some room so I could have more momentum on turn two's exit to do something with it. I knew I needed to get by Matt in a hurry.
As I did that, I think the 99 was behind me. Somebody was behind me. And they ended up getting inside of me through the short shoot, where I couldn't get down to the bottom. My vision was get a good run underneath Matt and try to have position on him going into the corner. I had such a good run on the outside and I saw two cars, and then I think one car and a third one with Matt, and I knew they were all stalling out. And more cars in that situation, just like at Daytona, the longer the line, the faster they're gonna go. I just tucked up behind Clint and made sure I caught him square and just started bump-drafting him down the straightaway. We just kept trucking right on by everybody.
The draft really helped me down the back stretch. Once I heard clear from the 17, I tried to move down, put him in an aero situation where he couldn't get another run inside of me, through dogleg into the four. It just worked out. Love it when a plan works out.
CHAD KNAUS: That was pretty neat, wasn't it? I could see it all happening again.
You know, we've talked about it a million times, you know, this year to everybody. We tried to take this year with a different approach and tried to be a little bit more mature about our main goal, and the main goal is to win the championship.
Just like everybody has said a million times, we come to this racetrack and we've struggled, we've had bad things happen, we've had crashes, we've had blown engines, poor runs. I did see it as a personal momentum-breaker for myself because it's something that we had not been able to conquer. So I just wanted to come here and try to make peace with it, you know. That's kind of what my goal was. I felt like if we could come here and run competitive, it would carry my confidence along with the team's confidence a little while. I'm not saying we're going to go out there, go on a tear and win a bunch of races, that's not what we're going to do. But it helps us as a team because it was something we have always had, kind of like an Achilles heal. We were able to kind of stifle it a bit here. That's all I wanted to do, is just get a top 10. If we came and run competitive, it would have showed a lot of good stuff for our team.
Q. If this was golf, you just won the third major of the year. What is it about these three races that has allowed you to win? What's been the key to the success? Has it been you got so up for these races? Is it the significance of them or what?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Maybe after the All-Star event I would give you that impression, but, you know, yesterday's practice session we felt like we had a shot to run in the top 10 but we didn't feel like we had a race-winning car.
We sat down, we spent a lot of time together, talked to the other crew chiefs and really, as an organization, did a good job of communicating what things helped our race cars. So I have to give a lot of credit to the other three race teams and the drivers and the crew chiefs. We spent a lot of time together.
We started to hit on some stuff on the 48 side, the end of practice, and we took that a little bit further. Chad made some other decisions, and we really just fought through it.
But the good thing at the end of yesterday's practice, the car was consistent enough on the track where I could really give some good feedback. We got it in the window where I could walk through each portion of each corner and give Chad some strong - ouch, my leg's cramping, sorry (laughter)...
This has been a tough afternoon. I lost my train of thought there.
But we spent a lot of time sorting through what we needed to do, and it paid off.
Q. From a personal standpoint.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, you know, the first two, I would say possibly. I mean, Daytona 500, I've had great equipment. I've had race cars that could win that race and I just made some bad moves and mistakes on my behalf.
Going into Lowe's Motor Speedway, of course I've had so much confidence going into that racetrack.
Coming here, it just blows that theory out of the water. We really feared coming here. We didn't get to test like we wanted to. We only had a half a day of testing. So we overcame a lot today.
Q. Chad, I'm trying to think back, five or six races maybe in the last two years that you guys have really dominated, you seemed, if you're not in a hole when you start out, you don't seem to succeed like you do. You're always there. End up 40th, people say, They're done, I'll say, they'll finish 4th. You do it every week.
CHAD KNAUS: That's just a testament to a whole group of things, you know. We've got an incredible team that comes to the racetrack with the 48 car every single week. We have what I feel is the best driver in NEXTEL Cup competition right now. But the thing you don't see is our support staff we've got at home. We come so prepared. We've got panels, we've got information, we've got data, we've got so many things that we can fall back on and pull from when something bad happens, that it's there, you know. And I think the biggest thing is we don't make stupid decisions, and that's a big testament to Jimmie because it would be very easy for him today to go out there and try to go three wide and make some silly passes right there at the beginning of that deal when we were 38th and not make it to the end of the race. I think that's what happens to a lot of guys. They get back there, they get anxious, and don't let the race come to them.
That's one thing that I think we've learned over the years. We used to be the team that would want to go out there sit on the pole, lead the most laps, win the race every single weekend. We kind of learned, about a year an a half, two years ago, that if you just - kind of tortoise and the hare bit, I guess - I don't know, I guess I am getting old, 35 - I guess you learn after a period of time if you kind of hang out a little bit, the race might start to come back to you. Typically, that's what happened with us. We've been very fortunate it hasn't bitten us yet.
Q. He talked about what I was going to ask you about, the whole tortoise and hare thing.
CHAD KNAUS: I'm 35.
Q. You're not old, by the way. I resemble that remark. He talked about that whole tortoise and hare thing. He's the guy that said at Charlotte one time a perfect weekend was coming to the race, win the pole, win every lap, win the race. When you're 14 laps in the end of the Allstate 400 and you've got eight guys in front of you, you don't know how this is gonna play out, how hard is it for you not to try to make all those passes in the first turn and wreck a car, I mean, as I driver?
CHAD KNAUS: Are you talking to me about that?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I didn't leave anything on the table, I can tell you that. I think just through experience, you understand that there's bad positions to put yourself in, and bump-drafting on these types of tracks usually isn't the best thing to do.
So as I was pushing Clint, I was remembering I think Charlotte where the 8 and 15 weren't working with each other down the straightaway and it caused a wreck. There was different visions in my mind, but, I mean, this is the Brickyard 400. I was doing all that I could to make sure I hit him straight and just got up to his bumper and pushed him, that I didn't really pop him.
I was as aggressive as I could be. Got by the 5. Got position on him, he cut me a break and let me go. Then the 8, his eyes were focused on that. I'm sure with his father winning here, he was extremely focused and committed to doing what he could do to win the race. I got in, got real close to him and the 3, got him crossed up a little bit and got by him.
So everybody had it all laid out there. I'm glad that I looked smooth. I'm glad that I make it look calculated. But inside my head and my stomach, man, everything's in a knot and it's all on the table.
Q. I like the idea about majors in golf, there was a Tiger Slam. Maybe this could be like a Jimmie Slam. Would you put the 600 in there to be a Jimmie Slam? Is 600 bigger than the All-Star? Can we complete that, figure that out?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I'm not sure that has a good ring to it, the "Jimmie Slam" (laughter).
You know, if you look back to, you know, what was it called, the Crown Jewel, was that the deal? Southern 500, I guess was in there. It's changed around. There's different ways to look at it.
The 600, that's another big, big event. But I think the three biggest paying races, we've been able to win. So I think that just depends on how you look at it.
Q. Chad, you dodged the radio issues and the tire problems, then you have a pit fire. Are you at a point there where you're wondering, What's next?
CHAD KNAUS: Oh, absolutely. I was like, Is it lap 160 yet?
I didn't know what was going to happen next. Obviously, there was a million things going through my mind, wondering if the tire was going to make it to the end of the next stint, and, you know, just you just don't know. We're back there behind all those cars, is somebody going to get crossed up, is there going to be an accident, are we going to get caught up in somebody else's mess. Or even if when we got back there in traffic, was our car going to be able to work its way back. There was a lot of guys that got marred back in traffic and they could not move forward.
So, yeah, I was pretty much -- I wouldn't say I was ready to give up, because we don't do that. But I was -- I had my guard up waiting for the next blow, I can tell you that.
Q. Jimmie, you talked a little bit about respect on the pace car after the race. Do you ever wonder what you have to do in the court of public opinion because I'm sure you have respect in the garage. And for Rick, to follow up, do you see a similarity in Jeff's early years and the respect issue?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Uhm, the way the question was asked was - in fact, I can't even remember it now exactly - but I was getting at in my comments, our sport is very big, and it's big because there are, you know, 50 different drivers and 43 on every weekend that are out there racing. Our fans support their fans. If you're not their driver, they're gonna let you know that. That's what I love about our sport.
What's helped me realize that is going to other sporting events. I'm sitting there, rooting for the Braves in an Atlanta Braves game, and I think the New York Mets came out and I'm booing those guys straight away when they walk out. That's what sporting's about. Once that clicked in my mind, I'm like, That's all that it is. You root for your guy.
I think the accomplishments that we've been able to have as a race team, and we might not have all the fans out there, the majority of the fans, that's not what I'm after. As I said in the car, it's about respect. I think what we've been able to accomplish, the way we've carried ourselves, how we've handled things, I think that we're gaining more and more respect. That's all I can ask for.
Q. Rick, do you see similarities to Jeff's early years?
RICK HENDRICK: Yeah, I guess when you have a young driver that does well and sometimes wins a lot and leads points, some of the veterans, you know, maybe say things and turn folks against them. I think a lot of the fans want to see guys earn respect. I think Jimmie has done a fantastic job of, you know, racing people, you know, good and clean and running, winning without having to run over them. I think a couple of accidents, you know, super Speedways that he got a bad rub and then that kind of carried on a little bit.
But I think if the drivers - and my experience in the sport, is, you know, if you get to win it a lot, you have a lot of everybody, all the other fans together are, you know, like Jimmie said, there's 40 other drivers, you add all of them together and maybe you don't see your fans.
But I see a big change walking into the garage now, looking at the fans in the stands and wearing the shirts and looking at the support he's getting, and I think he's earned that respect from not only the drivers, but I think the race fans see how competitive it is out there. These guys right here haven't had a cake walk; they have worked hard, you know, to put it together in a bad day.
I think we got together before the year started this year and looked at all of the things that have happened to us that we didn't get to the championship and took a different approach and trying not to get too excited and to, you know, let a guy go race, race everybody, and take the spot you got and come back next week and the points would add up, and then build the momentum toward the end.
I think the maturity that these guys have built together, there's been a lot of respect in the garage area. When you see other drivers complimenting them and talking about them, then the fans start saying, Yeah, look what they've overcome.
I think they've had to earn it. Jimmie has been a great spokesman for the sport. It's kind of nice when people don't say anything bad about you. I think it's okay for the fans to root for their guy, like Jimmie said. You know, when you get blamed for something that you really didn't do or maybe you were a little aggressive at one point, I think you just earn it every single week.
I watched the fans out there today, and they appreciated the job he did and the way he drove and the good show they saw at the end of the race. So, you know, it was nice to see that in the stands when we were kissing the bricks because sometimes when you've -- I've had to turn my shirt inside-out to leave the track before, back in the Bodine days, 20 years ago (laughter).
So I've been through it all.
You see so many of these young guys come along now that break into the sport that have got so much talent. And I think Jimmie mentioned it a little while, it's so competitive. It's really neat to watch drivers mature and go through different stages. I'm not just talking about my guys, I'm talking about other guys we've seen in the garage area.
Q. We know you're thrilled for the win and you talked earlier about that calm demeanor. Could it be you've trained yourself not to overreact, to learn patience, that you've trained yourself almost to not have that emotion in a way as you go through this?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think it's around the corner. The longer I sit here and think about what we did today, I'm getting riled up. It's just a delayed reaction. I can't believe we accomplished what we did today. It was just phenomenal. Unbelievable. New experience for me.
Q. It's your fifth Brickyard victory, Rick, but a first for a driver other than the name of Jeff Gordon. As a five-time winning team owner here, has Roger Penske come and asked you what the secret is to winning at this place?
RICK HENDRICK: No, I was actually talking to Roger before the race and said, Be easy on us today.
It's really neat to see, you know, Jimmie. I think you guys have touched on it. When you win Daytona and you win 600 and you win the All-Star race and then you come win this race, it kind of does something to your resume. It's races you want to win and it's races your sponsors want to win. So it's neat to win this race - whoever's in the car, you know.
I think these guys have worked hard. You hear it from all the teams, but today you've got to work together. I think Jimmie helped the other guys after practice, he and Chad. And the way they're communicating and working with each other and all of the knowledge and all of the talent that's there, these things are hard to come by. At my age, I like to collect as many as I can.
You know, I was worried more about getting up after the brick kissing in front of all those people. That was what was on my mind after I was right in the middle of the burnout rubber when I got up. I didn't want to see all those folks watching me struggle to get off my knees after so long (laughing).
Q. As you're sitting here, are maybe some of those early thoughts of you in southern California starting to come back to you and do you say, How did I get here. The second part, Mr. Hendrick, are we starting to lose the dirt track breeding ground for young drivers, and are you starting to look at the motorcycle, two-wheeled world?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, I do think about the background, my background, in a couple different ways. Because growing up, Rick Mears - and the whole Mears gang for that matter with Roger, Senior and Junior, all we needed was to have Casey, be part of Hendrick Motorsports - but they were who I looked up to. They started in off-road and went to Indy car.
When I was coming up through the ranks of off-road racing, I was working with Chevrolet and they picked me up at 16 years old, put me under contract. And we were heading down the road towards open wheel. I'll never forget one summer off-road desert race that we had, sat down and they said, Look, we're pulling out of Indy car, we're not gonna support it. If you want your career to go any further, you need to think of stock car racing.
At that point I started to drive for Herzog Motorsports and they had the same vision of going stock car racing and things all kind of came together.
So my early vision of coming to Indy, I always hoped that it would be an Indy car and not be in a stock car and win the Brickyard 400. I'm glad I at least made it here, sitting here with this trophy, kissing the bricks.
I think my off-road racing background and motor cross background, especially on the dirt bikes, when you made a mistake on a dirt bike, you hit the ground, it was like, Wow, that hurts, don't do that again. So I think it taught me a lot about winning and how to be aggressive. The dirt racing, I noticed today the track, the grip level really changed a lot. I think dirt drivers like Stewart and Kahne and Jeff, you see us really looking around and trying to find asphalt that isn't as slick in other parts and really changing lines and being aggressive with that.
Today I had to use that a lot, even as narrow as this racetrack is, my line changed quite a bit throughout the day searching for grip like a dirt track.
Q. Rick, this is your fifth time kissing the bricks. Does it taste better, still bad, or it's good? Is there any secret?
RICK HENDRICK: You know, it's an unbelievable experience, and every time you get to do it, it's just as special as the first time. You know, I think the thing that I've done is just try to treasure, you know, this is Indianapolis, that's kissing the bricks.
And each time, I've had this guy that I went to high school with that is one of my friends I grew up with, he's been here every time. He doesn't go to probably five races a year, but he's been every time we won Indy. I'm definitely gonna put him on a plane next year (laughter).
Again, it's just good to see a guy like Chad and Jimmie work hard, and they're two of the most unselfish guys in our organization. I know both of them, when Chad went to work in the 24 in the body shop, and Jimmie when he drove a late-model car I supported back when he was 18, I guess. They haven't changed. My relationship with them and the way I've seen Jimmie and Chad are the same people.
When I waited for him in St. Louis and bought him a big - what was it - a quarter pounder with my son and scolded my son because we had to wait three hours for this guy Jimmie Johnson to finish up a Busch race and come home with us, and the man goes to France and doesn't invite me (laughter). I'm trying to figure out how these drivers make all the money and us owners spend all the money.
Anyway, this is really a special deal. We try real hard. I think Chad said it, it's not just this race, it's every race. But, man, when you can win one of these, you don't take it for granted.
Q. Jimmie, before the race, I think Rick Mears and Bill, his dad, were there with you. Did they give you advice or anything? Rick had won there four times.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I didn't see Rick. I saw Roger and their father. It was kind of late, trying to get out to the race car.
I know how special this race is to the whole Mears family, and the history and what Rick has been able to accomplish here. On our off weekend, talking with Casey, I know Casey really, really came into this event hopeful that he would have a strong performance and that his family would be here.
Q. Jeff turned 35 on Friday. Chad turned 35 on Saturday. Was this your birthday present?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: As I crossed the finish line, I said, Happy birthday, Knaus. All he wanted was a top 10 for qualifying on his birthday; I delivered there, then got him a trophy.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you all very much. Congratulations.
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